Captain Nemo- Antti Niemi made 27 saves turning in one of his best efforts of the season as the San Jose Sharks led throughout in a 4-0 rout of the visiting Montreal Canadiens. Tommy Wingels scored twice while Matt Nieto and Logan Couture deposited pucks into the back of the net for Team Teal. The Sharks have now won four games out of six following the Olympic break. Team Teal also has crept to within four points of the Anaheim Ducks for first place in the Pacific Division and for the moment reside in third place overall in the Western Conference. The Sharks are also 2-0-1 on this current homestand with Toronto coming to the Shark Tank this coming Tuesday night. Niemi was spot on as he kept the Canadiens at bay while his team picked him up with excellent defensive play and a relentless pursuit of the puck. In two games against Montreal this season, Niemi has six shutout periods turning away a total of 49 shots on goal. The Canadians have not won a game in San Jose since November 1999 and for them the curse of the Shark Tank continues.
Meet Mister Shorty, The Game Changer- The Canadiens seemingly opened the game with an early break when James Sheppard was called for a tripping penalty. However the power play the Canadiens were awarded would not go according to script when they lost control of the puck in the Sharks defensive zone 38 seconds into their man advantage. The puck would sail into the neutral zone where Logan Couture had tracked it down. Couture than fired a long slap shot that Montreal starting goalie Peter Budaj (boo ‘di) would trap underneath his leg pads. However Montreal had two problems here, the first was that Budaj never had control of the puck and could not spot it underneath him. The second problem was that the Sharks’ Tommy Wingels never gave up on the play and charged towards the Canadiens’ net. Wingels was able to get his stick on the puck and jam it past Budaj and into the net to give the Sharks a 1-0 lead just 2:26 into the game. Short handed goals generally can change entire games and this one gave the Sharks a huge boost for the remainder of the evening. The Canadiens would get a few shots on goal after the Sharks’ score but Niemi was more than ready to meet and greet all incoming vulcanized rubber. The Sharks during the period would experience their own frustrations of sorts when they had basically back to back power play chances, with a 27 second five on three man advantage thrown in. The Sharks were able to get several shots on or towards the Montreal goal however just missed the net entirely on a few occasions. The shots that did not miss the net found their way to Budaj’s goalie’s glove. The Canadiens would make a late push on the period however Niemi was more than ready to meet this challenge as he was able to stop scoring bids from Thomas Vanek, Max Pacioretty, David Desharnais and Brendan Gallagher towards the end of the period. Montreal would outshoot the Sharks 9-7 in the opening period. The difference was one of those game changing short goals that put the Canadiens behind the eight ball.
Sacre Teal!- It did not take Team Teal too long to establish a level of dominance in the second period that would ultimate carry them for the rest of the evening. The Sharks would go on an offense attack that had Montreal chasing the puck for the majority of the period. Team Teal would outshoot the Canadiens 19-8 in the middle period. At just 1:54 of the period Matt Irwin would take a feed pass from Raffi Torres and hammered a slap shot that deflected off of Wingels thigh. The hot rubber biscuit would find its way into the Montreal net giving San Jose a two goal lead. Wingels has positioned himself in front of the goal crease and was able to successfully screen out Budaj. The goal was not entirely Budaj’s fault if it at all, the Sharks just executed a perfect screen. However Montreal Head Coach Michel Therrien had apparently already seen enough and replaced him with another back-up Dustin Tokarski. (Carey Price, the number one starter fro the Canadiens is injured reserve and was not available for this game.) Therrien would see as the game went along that Budaj wasn’t entirely to blame as the Canadiens just not being able to keep up with Team Teal. Later in the period the Sharks would add to their lead when Matt Nieto drilled a slap shot past Tokarski after taking a perfect feed pass from Patrick Marleau. The Sharks had a three goal lead with just under half of the second period played yet seemed to be in complete control of the game at this point. The Sharks continued to pepper Tokarski with several more shots on goal. To his credit, Tokarski held his own as it became obvious his job was to “Take One for the Team.”
Couture The Closer- Logan Couture has had a hot hand since returning to the Sharks line up. Going into the final period Couture already had two assists on the evening but he wasn’t done just yet. This was bad news for the Montreal Canadiens and anyone trying to get back to their seats after the final period had started. Matt Nieto, who benefitted from a Couture assist in the previous period returned the favor. Nieto, taking a puck off of the right boards, was able to get a perfect feed pass to Couture who was heading towards the Canadiens goal. Couture was able to hammer the puck past Tokarski to give the Sharks a 4-0 lead just 43 seconds into the final stanza. The Sharks would keep the pressure on Montreal just long enough to take away any reasonable chance for the visitors to mount any comeback. Niemi meanwhile stayed on point making 10 more saves for the period to secure his second shutout of the Canadiens this season.
Some Bad Hab-bits- As the game wore on late, several brief skirmishes were breaking out as the it was apparent Montreal had just had enough of this game and the road trip. The Sharks Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Matt Irwin and Scott Hannan along with the Canadiens Lars Eller, Ryan White and Brendan Gallagher all got the gate for unsportsmanlike conduct majors as the officiating crew was simply having none if it.
An Overall Solid Performance- The Sharks may not have played a perfect game Saturday night. The Sharks however carried the momentum over from the Penguins game two nights earlier into this game and were clearly the more focused team throughout the contest. The Sharks throughout the game were able to maintain control of the puck for several minutes on end. Team Teal forced the Canadiens to chase the rubber biscuit for the majority of the final two periods. This helped out Niemi in net immensely and frankly made his job a lot easier. All Niemi had to do was focus on the puck as the Sharks defended their zone well. Offensively the Sharks were giving Montreal different looks all game long and were able to keep the puck moving all game. The Sharks closed in on pucks and kept them coming towards the Montreal goal. The Sharks officially had 33 shots on goal, however that statistic does not count how many actual shots missed the net. It was raining hard rubber towards the Canadiens goal for most of the evening and their goalie tandem actually did well to hold the Sharks to four goals. The Sharks still need some work on their power play but they did get several shots on goal in their first two man advantage opportunities. They had a 27 second five on three man advantage chance that slipped by the boards only because they allowed for the puck to be cleared out of the zone. The power play will come around soon enough and will need to. Overall the Sharks team effort Saturday night was one of their better wire-to-wire efforts of the year. The Sharks have another test awaiting them Tuesday when Toronto comes calling. The Sharks will be facing another team that you simply cannot take a shift off from as this opponent will be just as challenging as any.
Three Stars of the Game- (3) Antti Niemi with 27 saves; (2) Logan Couture with a goal and two assist; (1) Tommy Wingels with two goals including his sixth game winning goal of the season to lead the Sharks.
Next Sharks Game- Tuesday night versus the Toronto Maple Leafs, 7:30pm PDT (Don’t forget to change your clocks for daylights savings time). The game can be seen in Northern California on CSN-CA and heard on the Sharks Radio Network (98.5FM San Jose/102.1 FM San Francisco).
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